Confessional data selfies

Online first in New Media & Society, our paper on ‘Confessional data selfies and intimate digital traces’ is out now.

The full abstract:

Data selfies are representations of self through personal quantitative data: from graphs of Tinder dating outcomes, through to the story of brain surgery told through daily step counts. In this article, we explore practices around what we call ‘confessional data selfies’ shared on the reddit forum r/DataIsBeautiful, where more than 14 million subscribers – predominantly straight men – share often complex and intimate quantitative self-representations of their lives. We draw on an analysis of the top 1000 posts on r/DataIsBeautiful, and a sub-sample of 59 data selfies, to identify patterns in confessional data selfie practices. We identify three themes: families and relationships, routine management, and body rhythms. We argue that these data selfies generate opportunities for self-reflection, connection, discussions of mental health, grief and other personal experiences. Significantly, this occurs largely between men, modulating processes of gendered impression management and expanding the conceptualisation of selfie work.

This was a collaboration with Ben Lyall and Claire Moran, where we look at the subreddit r/DataIsBeautiful and examine the practice of sharing visualisations of personal data, like sleep patterns, heart rate, steps taken, financial patterns, dating app success rates, word frequency analyses of message histories, and so on. I’ve been working on this one with Ben and Claire for a while now, and it’s been a really fun project to develop with them.

It had a slightly awkward fledgling debut at the Selfies Symposium at RMIT in 2018 when we were still figuring it out, a follow-up at Digital Intimacies in Perth a few months later when we had more data and Claire had joined the team, and then the most advanced version was presented at the Association of Internet Researchers conference last year in 2019. The NM&S reviewers were incredibly supportive and kind. I’m very proud of this one.